Once upon a time, I worked full time as a magazine journalist, covering the interesting people and places across Tennessee, especially in the rural areas. I still do freelance work for the magazine, and recently I did a feature on the new interpretive center at the Alex Haley Museum in Henning, Tennessee, a very small town north of Memphis. Haley is most famous for the novel Roots, on which the ground-breaking 1977 TV miniseries was based. Haley is responsible for getting a lot of people, especially African-Americans, interested in genealogy and their family histories.
A few years ago, I started working on my genealogy and found out a few things I'd not known before. My mother's paternal side came from Germany before the Revolutionary War and took part in that conflict, and I believe I could technically qualify to join the Daughters of the American Revolution if I so chose. I know the man and his son who came from Germany came into Pennsylvania then moved to North Carolina, where they were living at the time of the Revolution. The family eventually migrated to what is now Roane County, Tennessee and then on to Western Kentucky, where I grew up. Each Memorial Day when I take my mom around on what I jokingly call the Annual Tour of Cemeteries, one of the ones we stop at holds the graves of some of those early ancestors who migrated to Kentucky. Unfortunately, some of their grave stones are probably either lost in the forest or so worn down that you can't read anything that might have been etched in the stone.
Now, my dad's side, that's a different story. I haven't managed to get back very far, and I stowed all my genealogy work away in a plastic tub several years ago. But the new program Who Do You Think You Are? sponsored by Ancestry.com, which helps celebrities trace their family histories, has me itching to give it another go. I know that's their plan, to get you interested so that you fork over the money to join Ancestry.com, but it's working. There are things I can find out through public records and through the genealogy materials offered by the Latter Day Saints church, but I think I might join Ancestry.com soon, at least for a few months to see what they have available. I want to know where my paternal line, my birth surname, hails from. My dad hasn't a clue. He didn't even ever know his grandparents because they died before he was born. His dad was 50 when my dad was born, so he died when I was only 5 and I never had a chance to talk to him about his family's history. I wonder if his father or grandfather might have fought in the Civil War though because my grandpa was born in 1889. While many people my age still have their grandparents, my grandpa would be 122 this year. My other grandparents died when I was 10, 15 and 24, all before I got interested in family history, sadly.
It's less the names and dates I'm interested in than the human stories and the connections to other countries. Before my ancestors set their feet on America's shores, where did they call home? What did they do for a living? I'm guessing some good peasant stock, but that's okay. But it would be great to come across a surprise like Tim McGraw did in last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? He's always been a fan of George Washington, so it was an awesome moment when he was allowed to see a journal kept by a 16-year-old Washington when he was surveying in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and mentioned staying at the home of McGraw's ancestors.
So after I meet a couple of deadlines, I'm going to drag out those old materials and start organizing them and getting copies of official documents to back up some of the information I found on online forums. Hopefully this time I'll be able to trace my paternal roots back to their country of origin, just like Alex Haley did when he followed the branches of his family tree all the way back to Gambia.
Do you enjoy genealogy? Do you know where your family hails from? Any interesting family history tidbits you'd like to share? And if you have tips about effective genealogy research, please share those too.
Prize time! Family is an important aspect of the continuity series (Codys: First Family of Rodeo) I was in last year with five other authors. One commenter today will receive a copy of my October 2010 release, Elly: Cowgirl Bride. That's in addition to our daily Go Red pin for the lucky winner.
The healthy heart tip for today is: Still seeing hearts even after Valentine's Day? You've seen hearts all month long; now look for a slightly different heart icon at the grocery store. Select products with the Heart-Check Mark. These items are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
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From Feb 1 through May 31, 2011, receive one free romance e-book when you sign up for the American Heart Association's Better U Program and one after you complete week six of the program. And look for the Eat Smart for Your Heart limited edition magazine (that features this offer) on newstands and in a grocery store near you.
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